If you’ve been injured in a car accident and are wondering how damages are awarded, read the details of this local car accident case that went to trial.
Verdict date: July 28, 2016
Jurisdiction: Nevada County Superior Court, Nevada City, California.
Plaintiff trial counsel: James R. Lewis, Priscilla M. Parker, Law Offices of Frank D. Penney
Defense trial counsel: Linda J.L. Sharpe, Law Offices of John L. Hauser, staff counsel for The Hartford
Plaintiff K. Harris, then age 24, was legally stopped on a two-lane rural road in Nevada County waiting for a vehicle ahead to complete its right turn when he was collided into by a full size pick-up driven by B. Holderbein. Plaintiff’s Jeep sustained over $15,000 in damage. Defendant’s Toyota Tundra sustained over $16,000 in damage. The impact speed was at least 31 mph, and the change in velocity for Plaintiff and his vehicle was at least 18 mph. Plaintiff’s driver’s seat was dislodged from the tracks, and the seat back collapsed and twisted.
Physical Damage from Collision
Plaintiff had immediate complaints of back and neck pain, and leg pain where the seat impacted his leg. Plaintiff underwent chiropractic treatment, physical therapy, acupuncture, traction, trigger point injection, MRI and epidural steroid injection, none of which resolved his low back pain. Two MRI revealed a 1-2 mm protrusion at L5-S1. Past stipulated medical expenses were $33,084.
Plaintiff was evaluated by Ardavan Aslie, MD who, after several visits, and completion of conservative measures, offered a discectomy and fusion to Plaintiff once a discography was performed. The discectomy was never performed, as Plaintiff had not fully committed to surgery. He was fearful of it. Surgical expenses were estimated to be $207,000, according to Dr. Aslie and Gregory Sells, MA.
Plaintiff managed and worked in his family’s hay sales business.
On doctor’s orders following the collision he was never able to return, and the business eventually closed 16 months after the collision.
Plaintiff’s past lost earnings were $26,114.
Plaintiff was evaluated by Mr. Sells and determined he had plans pre-collision to become a welder, earning $31,000 a year starting, but could not pursue that vocation following the collision because of his physical limitations. Alternate careers would have earned $24,000 to $29,000 a year. Craig Enos, CPA, provided an economic damage analysis on the loss of earning capacity totaling $461,827 through age 67. Total claimed economic damages for Plaintiff were $728,027. Plaintiff suggested the jury award $325,000 in past and future general damages, given the conservative jury pool and the large economic damages figure.
Plaintiff presented five expert witnesses and three lay witnesses, including Plaintiff’s mother, sister and ex-girlfriend. Plaintiff’s case was completed in two days. Courtroom trial days were Tuesday through Thursday only.
Defendant’s sole expert was Eldan Eichbaum, MD from Fremont who performed a record review and cursory twenty minute history and exam for Liberty Medical. Our nurse witness documented that Dr. Eichbaum failed to perform much if any true orthopedic testing and never had Plaintiff remove any clothing other than socks. Dr. Eichbaum opined that Plaintiff (who was age 24) had degenerative disc disease, that his work in the hay business caused it, and that he needed no future care of any kind.
Dr. Eichbaum also opined that Plaintiff should refrain from any heavy lifting, or twisting or bending at the waste, but this was not because of injuries from the collision. Dr. Eichbaum agreed that all care rendered to date was reasonable and necessary. Defendant’s counsel suggested the jury award $13,200 for six months past lost earnings, award stipulated medical expenses of $33,084, and award $10,000 total in general damages.
Defendant attempted to introduce into evidence Facebook postings of Plaintiff at a renaissance faire wearing 40 lbs of armor.
The images were of Plaintiff one year before the collision, wearing a piece of armor he made but had not worn since the collision. After several hearings, including an Evidence Code 402 hearing of the Plaintiff without a jury, the judge precluded the defense from showing it to the jury.
Plaintiff’s CCP 998 for $350,000 expired when the jury was sworn. Defendant’s CCP 998 for $150,000 expired when the jury was sworn.
Car Accident Case Results
The jury was comprised of 6 men and 6 women, most of whom were college graduates, some transplants from the Bay Area, some retired, some still working, and most of whom checked the box “often excessive” with regard to money damages award by juries on the Judicial Council jury questionnaire.
The jury awarded $361,200 as follows: $26,114 in past earnings, $33,084 in past medical, $207,002 in future medical, zero for future lost earnings/loss of earning capacity, and $50,000 in past general damages with $45,000 in future general damages.
The jury declined to award future lost earnings because Plaintiff had not made efforts toward becoming a welder since the collision (despite his physical limitations), and could have, in their opinions, pursued some sedentary work in the interim. Since the verdict exceeds Plaintiff’s CCP 998, Plaintiff will recover expert expenses, prevailing party costs, and pre-judgment interest of approximately $27,502 for a total recovery of $388,702.